Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated (4)
Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated (4)

Hitting Hard, Seattle Style

The Seahawks have embraced tackling techniques that remain physical and sure-handed while conforming to evolving safety rules—and Pete Carroll shows how in a new teaching video that’s become popular at the grassroots level

By
Greg A. Bedard
· More from Greg·

When the NFL expanded defenseless player rules to essentially eliminate hits above the shoulders in 2010, Pete Carroll reacted like every other coach. “I was resisting,” Carroll, then in his first season as Seahawks coach, told The MMQB last week. “How are we going to do this? How are we going to do that?”

His silent protest lasted that through that first season until the next league meetings. That’s when he had what he calls a change of heart. Carroll got together with his coaches, including defensive passing game coordinator Rocky Seto, and changed course. “I knew we couldn’t fight it,” Carroll said. “We had to do something about it.

“Let’s take the other side of the argument and see if we can turn this thing into a positive.”

The rest is history, culminating with a Super Bowl XLVIII victory over the Broncos. The heart of the 2013 Seahawks was a physically imposing defense that figured out a way to maintain its mission statement—punish the opponent—despite ever-evolving safety rules. It played out in statistics. According to Pro Football Focus, Seattle was second in the league in tackling efficiency last season, missing one tackle every 11.94 attempts. (Only New England—one every 12.29 attempts—was better.)

The technique taught by Carroll and his staff has allowed Seattle to maintain one of the league's most physical defenses. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
The technique taught by Carroll and his staff has allowed Seattle to maintain one of the league’s most physical defenses. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Now Carroll is sharing those secrets with the football world. In late July, in conjunction with Nike and the Seahawks, Carroll released a tackling teaching tape on the popular coaching video platform HUDL, which reaches some 14,000 high school and youth teams on its network. It was well-received.

“Over 1,000 coaches have signed up to be notified when new content from Nike and Pete Carroll is delivered,” said Erik Pulverenti, who is in charge of business development for HUDL. He adds that coaches from more than 60 countries have watched the Seahawks Tackling video, which is also available on the Seahawks’ own site.

Carroll said he, Seto and the team’s video staff put the film together before the summer break so coaches would have the opportunity to utilize it before their seasons started.

Carroll ignored the instinct to protect some of the secrets that made them world champions.

“You’re always concerned about that because you’re trying to maintain a competitive edge,” he said. “But in this case, I think the game is way above that kind of a thought. In an effort to try and help promote the game that we love and also help young people coming into the game be safe, there was really no question that we had to go and put it out.”

To emphasize shoulder tackling, there are Rugby clips sprinkled in throughout the video.(Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)
To emphasize shoulder tackling, there are Rugby clips sprinkled in throughout the video.(Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

So what’s on the tape?

The Seahawks refer to themselves as a “shoulder leverage tackling team.” Basically, they track the near hip of the ball carrier, and then lead with the near shoulder in the thigh of the ball carrier. They feel this helps take the head out of the equation. The basic tackle is the Hawk Tackle. The teaching points are: eyes through the thighs, wrap and squeeze, and then “drive for 5”—push the ball carrier back five yards when necessary.

Sound similar to rugby tackling? Carroll thought so too. There are several rugby highlights sprinkled in.

“I’ve always thought it’s an awesome game,” he said. “It’s the most natural game of football in that you don’t have pads on. I think we can make dramatic illustrations of how you can play the game without a helmet.”

The other tackle techniques taught in the video are tracking the ball carrier, the Hawk roll tackle (tackler rolls himself and the ball carrier after contact), the profile tackle (with an aiming point through the near pec), the strike zone against defenseless players (below the neck and above the knees) and the compression tackle (two defenders on either side of the ball carrier).

The shot heard ’round the Super-Bowl, the key first-quarter hit by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor on Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas that set the tone for the Seahawks’ 43–8 rout, was shown on the video in the strike zone portion, but was also an example of a profile tackle.

“It’s a perfect example of utilizing the strike zone,” Carroll said. “The strike zone thought is something Rocky came up with that has really helped us. We have to avoid hitting players in the head and neck area. We don’t want to go below the knees either. It’s been a really cool addition because it makes sense.

“Kam Chancellor, who is one of the toughest and most physical players in the NFL, has taken the teachings to heart. [His tackling] demonstrates how you can maintain your physical play and still do it the right way, within the guidelines of the league. Really, they are the guidelines that all football should be following.”

The most surprising aspect of the video is that Carroll said they have learned to drill the techniques in-season and during the offseason, in pads or in shorts and a t-shirt. Tackling across the NFL has suffered in the three years since the NFL enacted its rule changes. The likely cause is that most coaches haven’t figured out a way to effectively drill tackling without pads. Judging by the Seahawks’ success on defense, it appears that Carroll has.

The Seahawks and the NFL have released the video in conjunction with its Heads Up Football safety campaign from USA Football. While both tackling techniques feature the shoulder, two techniques depart greatly on how to finish a tackle. The Seahawks have the experience to bring the head down as part of their shoulder tackle. USA Football, which deals mostly in the youth level, instructs players to tackle by ripping their knuckles up with a double uppercut, which brings the head up and away from the tackle, not down by the legs. There will be some criticism from youth coaches about this, and Carroll knows his techniques aren’t for everyone.

“I don’t expect everybody to agree,” he said. “I’m not trying to tell anybody this is the way you’re supposed to do it. The whole point is just to show that this is the way we do it and if people want to take advantage of it, that’s good.

“It goes against some of the traditional ways that tackling has been taught, and I’m O.K. with that. I really welcome the challenges. We don’t mind at all.”

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31 comments
drwam1
drwam1

40 years ago, I can remember reading in SI about how experienced coaches thought that head tackling (then just coming into vogue) was poor technique. I love this return to basics. I am a Niner fan. While I have problems with the frequent holding by Seattle DBs, I have never noticed any issue with dirty tacking by the Seahawks. Those boys hit you hard and make you remember. That part is just good football.

It is nice to see Pete Carroll paying attention to part of the rule book.

djp9192
djp9192

i've always been amazed how poor the tackling is in the nfl, especially open field tackling ... it must be the helmet.   In Rugby Union, and especially in Rugby League, even with wider fields and so much lateral passing, missed tackles are rare and every schoolboy knows the technique.

murfed
murfed

i taught this technique in pop warner football 40 years ago. spearing an opponent used to be a 15 yard penalty for unnecessary roughness not the norm. spear twice and you were ejected !  nothing new here.

wjones2371
wjones2371

Wow....The Seahawks are teaching their players how to make a form tackle.....Big deal....Everyone should be doing it.....Just think....These guys are making six and seven figures for doing something former players did for peanuts back in the day ! Where have you gone Chuck Bednarik ?

pirate
pirate

The point is, instead of whining about it, the Seahawks figured out how to do it within the rules. And it paid off in a shockingly dominant season and Super Bowl championship. And now, instead of pretending their trying to protect the country's nuclear secrets, they're sharing it with anyone who wants to learn from their success. That sounds like sportsmanship to me.

thatmanstu
thatmanstu

It's the way anyone and everyone once tackled and the way anyone and everyone not wearing a helmet still tackles....Sandlot and Rugby is where actual tackling is done and done well. Eliminate the helmet and watch how quickly everyone learns to actually tackle........you'll only stick your head in once...twice for the real idiots, but you get my drift.........

horsley1953
horsley1953

Its actually quite simple: They discovered arms and hands are available for grasping. Everyone else still seems to believe you just launch yourself like a missile and hope you knock someone down.

Wisconsin Death Trip
Wisconsin Death Trip

"How Seattle mastered tackling...."  


They went and studied Pop Warner football tapes.....common sense. 

Coach Laffey
Coach Laffey

I learned this as a 10 year old. Teaching and practicing tackling form without pads is certainly not exceptional.

burtrob1939
burtrob1939

THE SEAHAWKS TACKLING IS NOTHING NEW, IT WAS TAUGHT THAT WAY IN THE 50's,, WHEN PLAYING IN HIGH SCHOOL.

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

Nice topic, but the choice to include Mr. Sherman in cover picture is a curious one ('13: 38t - 10a). Kam (#31), he can stick.  

JuanH
JuanH

There should be an article on how the Seahawks perfected defensive holding

el80ne
el80ne

@Wisconsin Death Trip No, actually it was rugby and the way rugby players tackle as explained in the article above. There's also this sentence: USA Football, which deals mostly in the youth level, instructs players to tackle by ripping their knuckles up with a double uppercut, which brings the head up and away from the tackle, not down by the legs. There will be some criticism from youth coaches about this, and Carroll knows his techniques aren’t for everyone.


I don't think pop warner teaches this technique.

BigSchtick
BigSchtick

@Coach Laffey "they track the near hip of the ball carrier, and then lead with the near shoulder in the thigh of the ball carrier."

Not sure when you played but for the longest time it was putting the crown of your helmet on the sternum, not aiming for the thigh with a shoulder.

DavidWitcraft
DavidWitcraft

@el80ne @Coach Laffey We see this in the NFL now, all the time. Defenders try to make big hits, then they don't wrap up. As a Seattle fan, this is often demonstrated by opponents. Marshawn Lynch has a reputation as being difficult to tackle(leading the NFL in yards after contact). Lynch has a fighter's balance, and he keeps his legs moving. LBs and DBs drop their heads before contact and hit him high, trying to knock him down, then they can't wrap him up. At least once a game another player comes in late, trying to deliver a hit, and knocks a would be tackler off of Lynch. 

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

@el80ne @Coach Laffey It's not a question of "figur(ing) out (it ain't rocket science)," it's a question of choice, strategy: emphasis on glory stats (INTs & sacks) & trading scores vs stout defense ("tackling") and capable matriculation (SEA). 

JubJub
JubJub

@unitcaptain11 @JuanH Agreed.  The Seahawks whipped my Broncos fair and square last year.  Any implication that what they did was through some kind of cheating or gaming the system is nonsense.  They were the best team in football all year long.  

Scott H
Scott H

@JubJub @unitcaptain11 @JuanH No they weren't. They had to have several breaks go their way to barely win the division. They almost lost to Tampa(!) at home, among other wins over inferior teams that they barely squeezed out (Houston, anyone?). They haven't beaten the Niners in SF since Carroll got there. And the Niners would have beaten them on a neutral field, based on the Seahawks barely getting by them at home in the noise tunnel in the last seconds of the game. You should be thanking the real 12th Man (the architect who built that stadium) and the refs for deciding Ahmad Brooks isn't allowed to sack Drew Brees. Good luck this year with those new holding/illegal contact rules. 

pk_sea
pk_sea

@Scott H @JubJub @unitcaptain11 @JuanH Sour Grapes Scott? You can blame the architect for the C-link, but you can also blame the lot size and footprint to fit as many people in as they could. At least the Hawk fans didn't need a cheat sheet on how to cheer for their team like fans of a certain red and gold colored team in the bay area. 

Michael206
Michael206

@Scott H 

"They haven't beaten the Niners in SF since Carroll got there."
The Seahawks have outscored the Niners151-87 since "Carroll got there."  The Niners hold a 3-4 edge in games by virtue of the two narrowest victories in the series.

"And the Niners would have beaten them on a neutral field, based on..."
Wishful thinking?

"Good luck this year with those new holding/illegal contact rules."
The starting defensive backfield for the Seahawks has played three preseason games and have been called for a passing penalty zero times.  Zero.  "Luck" has got nothing to do with it.

Since mid-season of 2011, the Seahawks have yet to lose a game by more than one score.  In the same period, the Niners have lost six games by two or more scores.

Good luck in search of your first touchdown of the year.

MyDogWally
MyDogWally

@Scott H @JubJub @unitcaptain11 @JuanH If they weren't the best team in football, then who was, Scott?  Every team ALMOST loses to other teams, no matter how good they are.  The best team wins the Super Bowl.  Any other argument is just crying.

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